He has the rugged looks of an outdoorsman and the stamina to complement them.
"I'm a slave to my job for the most part," John Passero says. "If I didn't work a 100-hour week, then something is wrong with me. But I don't think that's bad. You just have to enjoy it."
Passero, 53, has to fight rain, snow and sleet like a mailman, and a poor growing season like a farmer. He's the track superintendent for Pimlico and Laurel Park and the Bowie Training Center.
Occasionally, he has to attend to his duties in the middle of the night when the temperature drops during the winter meeting at Laurel, threatening to freeze the racing strip and endanger the horses and jockeys on the next day's card.
He has to worry about the moisture absorbed by the track and the uniformity of its condition for each race.
During Preakness Week, his work is under intense scrutiny with national attention focused on the track.
But perhaps no one has more respect from management and horsemen alike than Passero.
"This young man knows what he's doing," said veteran trainer John Lenzini. "He does things differently from some of the old-timers, but they work. I trust my horses on any track he's in charge of."
Before Passero arrived, bad weather meant almost certain trouble at Laurel or Pimlico, and Pimlico had a reputation as a too-hard track that endangered the horses' health and contributed to breakdowns.
For years, Old Hilltop's surface was regarded as one that favored speed horses and the inside posts, a "rail bias" in track parlance.
"That was its reputation years ago," said Passero, who took this job in 1987. "I fight that stigma constantly."
But the people who race at Pimlico daily say that Passero and his crew do an excellent job of trying to maintain a consistent surface, thereby giving no one an advantage.
"It seems like the last couple of years, this has been kind of an even track," said one of the leading jockeys, Larry Reynolds. "Rain can change it, but they are always on top of it and keep it in great shape.
"I attribute everything to John, who does a heck of a job. When I first came here, there were rocks on the track, but he got after them right away. In the heat, he'll add moisture as soon as it needs it. The jockeys have a lot of respect for him."
Alberto Delgado, who will be astride local favorite Oliver's Twist in tomorrow's 120th Preakness, agreed that the surface "is about 50-50. I've run a lot of races to win coming from behind.
L "There was always a rail bias, but that's not true anymore."
On a day when bias seems to be occurring, Passero said, "I honestly don't know why it happens. Sometimes, it can be in the dead middle of the track. It's just there and not because we haven't tried to prevent it."
"The talk about the bias started with Bee Bee Bee [1972 Preakness victor]," said Oliver's Twist's trainer, Billy Boniface Jr. "The tight turns made getting to the rail important.
"But it has all evened out since then and at 1 3/16 miles [Preakness distance], I don't think it makes much difference where you start."
Said Passero: "I look at it like a football game. You can attack or you can play defense. If a track gets you backing up, you're going to lose, so I attack it."
Passero said, come 6 p.m. tomorrow, there will be "only one Preakness winner and 10 who will be looking for reasons why they didn't win."
He contends that how a race sets up, how the jockeys ride and simple racing luck have more to do with the outcome than "John Passero and company. The track is as fast as the horses and jockeys want to run on it.
"My father was a rider until 1942 and a trainer until he died in 1963, so I consider myself more of a horseman," said Passero. "Not that I've ever trained a horse, but I can take them to task when they bring up something ridiculous."
The track is graded in such a manner that spillover goes where no horse treads, one of the many innovations he introduced to Maryland.
Others are the use of a stick to ensure that the top layer of dirt is 3 1/2 to 4 inches deep across the track, frequent grading, a harrow that digs more deeply into the soil and the use of a boom that waters the track nearest the rail.
Passero said that his biggest concern is not the speed at which the races are run but "seeing the riders and horses come back safely. I look at the business aspect, but, to me, the human side is more important."
Passero is Canadian born with a full racing background. He walked hots and parked cars as a youth, then began working on the dirt track at Woodbine, eventually launching his career as a superintendent.
If necessary, he will be at the track in the wee hours if the weather turns sour.
"Going to the track in the middle of the night?" he asked rhetorically. "Well, you have to be there when you have to be there."